Rotini Salad, “Cool, man!”

In Recipies on May 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Cold, pasta salads are a summer delight!

Iowa has pulled yet another cruel hoax on the Phyne Dyner.  After only two delightfully warm days, its cold, rainy (and generally “sucky”) weather has returned in all of its gloomy splendor.  Being a weather-guesser on Iowa “tee-vee” must be an easy gig.  The air “personality” adjusts his tie, looks into the camera with the flashing red light on top, and announces; “The weather tomorrow will suck.  The day after tomorrow’s weather will also suck.  In fact, we can look forward to an entire month of sucky weather.  Stay tuned, because we’re gonna keep you safe…from everything except our sucky weather.”  I assume many Iowans vacation in Seattle because they find its weather more cheerful.  I am sure the wonderfully hot weather will eventually return after the rains, bringing with it the high-pitched whining call of the Iowa state bird…

…the mosquito.

However, I did have two days to enjoy wonderfully cool salads.

This pasta salad is far from pretentiousness.  In fact, this one is so Bohemian that you will want to take off one hubcap from your car after eating it.  The ingredients are nearly universally available (even in Pella) and it whips up fast.  Many of the ingredients are “store-bought”, so there are no complex steps involved.  Even Mrs. Phyne Dyner would have zero trouble bringing this to table.  (Before I took over cooking duties permanently almost thirty years ago, the smoke detector announced, “Dinner is ready”.)

I do not recall the origin of this recipe.  I keep a lot of them on scraps of paper.  This one was penned on a Paxil CR sticky note, so it likely came from a patient of mine some years back that had diabetic polyneuropathy.

The dish can be made with or sans (meaning “without” for TEA Party subscribers) chicken.  I toss in some chunked white mushrooms and never miss the meat.  Even though I rationalize that chickens do not lactate, I still hesitate putting grated romano pecorino into a chicken-laden salad.  If meat-dairy mixing is “okay” with your culture, this salad would deserve a can of the cooked chicken breast meat.

Rotini is that wonderful “corkscrew” pasta.  It lends itself to cold salads because it holds its firmness after cooking.  Because mushy rotini is beyond awful, I always undercook it one minute less than recommended by the packager.

No rotini?  No problem.  Penne pasta works well.  Just my opinion, but I have never had a “good” pasta salad made with “elbows”, spaghetti, or flat noodles.  Even cold shell pasta gives me the willies.  In any case, try using whole wheat pasta if you have the opportunity to do so.  Whole wheat pasta is now my “noodle passion”.

I absolutely love oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes.  I found a two-pound jar at Costco for less than $7…a very small jar (8oz) at Hy Vee runs about $4.  If you are as fortunate as I was in finding a BIG jar of these, remember to keep them fresh in the fridge by always keeping the olive oil level above the tomatoes…lest they begin to darken or grow green fuzz.  (With my new bounty of sun-dried tomatoes, I will soon cook a Cypriot fish and spinach recipe a real chef shared with me…provided I never told where it came from.)

It is a good idea to make this a day before serving.  It is simple and fast to make, but is always much better when thoroughly chilled.

Ready to get Bohemian?

1-lb uncooked rotini pasta (try whole wheat)

1 can cooked chicken breast (optional)

2 C white mushrooms cut in large pieces (for meatless dish)

2 TBS toasted pine nuts (or walnuts, or almonds)

2 C broccoli florettes (frozen or fresh)

1-2 carrots cut in matchsticks

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 C oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 red (sweet) pepper diced

1 C mayonnaise (pareve)

1/2 C Italian salad dressing

1 C (packed) fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

1/2 C grated romano OR 1-2 ounces of pecorino run across a MicroPlane (if meatless or you do not care)

salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to package instructions.  I was taught to heavily salt pasta water and usually add about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per quart of cooking water.  Cook the pasta (put the broccoli in with it to cook), but do not over-cook it.  When done, pour off the water and pasta into a colander and rinse well with COLD water.  Drain pasta thoroughly, place in a bowl, and put it in the fridge to chill.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Cut up the dried tomatoes (I use kitchen shears) and toss them (with a bit of their packing oil) into the skillet.  Add chicken (if using) and garlic.  Cook until garlic is fragrant (about a minute).  Stir in the sweet pepper, carrot, mushrooms (if using), pine nuts (or other nuts), and cook until just beginning to get tender, but still firm.  Do not over cook the vegetables.  Immediately remove from heat and the skillet into the refrigerated pasta and return bowl to the fridge.

Now, make the dressing by whisking the bottled Italian salad dressing and mayonnaise together in a small bowl.

Chiffonade the basil by rolling the leaves into a “cigar” and then slicing the “cigar” in thin slices…giving you long strips of basil.

Finally, toss everything together (pasta, veggies, chicken*, and cheese) with the dressing mixture.  Season with a bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  The accompanying photo does not do the dish justice.  That is entirely may fault.  I should have photographed the finished dish before covering it with grated cheese.  It is not an elegant meal.  But it is worthy of Phyne Dyning.


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